Skip to main content

NFC South rookie grades: Buccaneers, Saints ace their top picks

With Super Bowl LIV in the books, the offseason is upon us. To get ready for the NFL Scouting Combine, free agency and the 2020 NFL Draft, Nick Shook and Gennaro Filice are taking a division-by-division look backward to evaluate each team's crop of 2019 rookies, weighing hits and misses -- then looking forward at areas for each squad to focus on in the coming months. Shook examines the NFC South below.

Round 1: (No. 5 overall) Devin White, LB, 13 games/13 starts.

 **Round 2:** (39) 
 Sean Murphy-Bunting, CB, 16 games/10 starts. 
 **Round 3:** (94) 
 Jamel Dean, CB, 13 games/5 starts; (99) 
 Mike Edwards, S, 15 games/7 starts. 
 **Round 4:** (107) 
 Anthony Nelson, DE, 9 games/1 start. 
 **Round 5:** (145) 
 Matt Gay, K, 16 games/0 starts. 
 **Round 6:** (208) 
 Scott Miller, WR, 10 games/2 starts. 
 **Round 7:** (215) 
 Terry Beckner Jr., DT, 0 games/0 starts. 

White (91 tackles, 2.5 sacks, three passes defensed, one pick, three forced fumbles) was a stud, proving himself worthy of the No. 5 pick. Murphy-Bunting (44 tackles, three picks) also proved to be a legitimate player as a rookie, as did Dean, who finished with 17 passes defended and two interceptions in 13 games. Edwards was a valuable contributor as well, recording 45 tackles, one sack and six passes defended. Gay solved Tampa Bay's kicking problem, showing off his strong leg on multiple occasions in making five of eight attempts from 50-plus yards. Miller caught just 13 passes but made the most of them, recording 200 yards (15.4 yards per catch) and a touchdown in 10 games. Nelson played a healthy amount of defensive snaps to go along with 111 snaps on special teams but didn't make a significant statistical mark. Beckner was suspended for violating the league's PED policy and eventually released.

 **Free agency/combine focus:** First up is offensive tackle. 
 Demar Dotson is going to be a free agent and, given that he's turning 35 in October, it's time to find a replacement via the draft, even if Bruce Arians 
 doesn't like drafting offensive linemen. Next comes deciding on the future of free-agent QB 
 Jameis Winston, the founding member of the NFL's 30-30 (TD-INT) club. The Bucs should also seek young pass-rushing edge talent, with 
 Jason Pierre-Paul (31), 
 Ndamukong Suh (33) and 
 Carl Nassib (26) heading for free agency -- finding a way to re-sign NFL sack king Shaq Barrett is paramount. Finally, while 
 Mike Evans and 
 Chris Godwin were an incredible one-two punch at receiver, the 
 Buccaneers need to decide on No. 3. Will it again be free agent 
 Breshad Perriman, or could someone else step in? Might Miller rise to the role? Oh, and running back, which didn't see a ton of action thanks to the scoring deficits created by early Winston turnovers, could use an infusion of talent, especially if the 
 Buccaneers don't see much in the future of 
 Ronald Jones or 
 Peyton Barber (the latter will be a free agent). 

Round 2: (No. 48 overall) Erik McCoy, C, 16 games/16 starts.

 **Round 4:** (105) 
 Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, S, 16 games/7 starts. 
 **Round 6:** (177) 
 Saquan Hampton, S, 5 games/0 starts. 
 **Round 7:** (231) 
 Alize Mack, TE, 0 games/0 starts; (244) 
 Kaden Elliss, LB, 3 games/0 starts. 
 **Notable rookie FA signings:** 
 Carl Granderson, DE, 8 games/0 starts; 
 Deonte Harris, WR, 14 games/1 start; 
 Shy Tuttle, DT, 16 games/1 start. 

The Saints nailed their selection of McCoy, who started all 16 games and became a reliable blocker at center. Gardner-Johnson had a very solid season, too, recording 49 tackles, eight passes defended, one interception and one forced fumble. Tuttle found success in spots, recording a memorable interception, and he could grow to become a solid player. Hampton and Elliss ended up on injured reserve, cutting their brief seasons short. Mack was cut from the practice squad. New Orleans deserves a lot of credit for finding its center of the future in McCoy and a player with a ton of potential in Gardner-Johnson, as well as Pro Bowl returner Harris, but the entirety of this class isn't deserving of the highest grades.

 **Free agency/combine focus:** The 
 Saints have to first figure out what they'll do at quarterback, which begins with 
 Drew Brees' decision on his future. Will New Orleans be able to retain 
 Teddy Bridgewater if Brees stays? That's unlikely, but the biggest wild card in all of this is 
 Taysom Hill, the do-everything quarterback who might 
 also be headed out of town. Beyond that, the 
 Saints will have to find a way to keep free-agent guard 
 Andrus Peat, while 
 Zach Line's expiring contract makes fullback a position of surprising concern. Defensive tackle is solid, but rotational player 
 David Onyemata might be headed elsewhere, and outside linebacker will also need to be addressed, with 
 A.J. Klein no longer under team control. Of the two former Ohio State defensive backs approaching free agency, it seems cornerback 
 Eli Apple is more likely to be retained than safety 
 Vonn Bell, with cornerback 
 P.J. Williams also up for a new deal, and with Gardner-Johnson there to take Bell's place. There are a lot of upcoming changes to address with this draft, but the 
 Saints need to add a legitimate receiver opposite 
 Michael Thomas, and it's likely they'll select a cornerback, with a linebacker potentially also being added to the mix. 

Round 1: (No. 14 overall) Chris Lindstrom, G, 5 games/5 starts; (31) Kaleb McGary, T, 16 games/16 starts.

 **Round 4:** (111) 
 Kendall Sheffield, CB, 16 games/11 starts; (135) 
 John Cominsky, DE, 10 games/0 starts. 
 **Round 5:** (152) 
 Qadree Ollison, RB, 8 games/0 starts; (172) 
 Jordan Miller, CB, 10 games/0 starts. 
 **Round 6:** (203) 
 Marcus Green, WR, 0 games/0 starts (signed to 
 Eagles' practice squad in September). 

McGary was available all season, but he finished 90th in pass blocking and 74th in run blocking, per Pro Football Focus. Lindstrom was lost for much of the season due to injury, leaving his evaluation incomplete. Sheffield earned a sub-50 grade in pass coverage from PFF, but he was statistically effective, recording 46 tackles, three passes defended and one forced fumble in 16 games. Cominsky was effective per PFF, finishing 23rd in overall defensive grade among edge rushers despite not racking up a ton of traditional stats. Ollison didn't make much of an impact, while Miller spent the majority of his season on special teams, playing 89 of 114 snaps with the third phase of the game, then was hit with a PED suspension that began in Week 17 and will carry through the first three games of 2020. Green ended up on Philadelphia's practice squad.

 **Free agency/combine focus:** Even before we learned 
 Vic Beasley 
 was definitively headed out the door, the 
 Falcons needed help in the pass-rushing department. They've invested in receiver with 
 Calvin Ridley, but shipping out 
 Mohamed Sanu via mid-season trade created a potential need at the position, while tight end 
 Austin Hooper is headed for free agency. Linebacker might be an area of need if Atlanta can't retain 
 De'Vondre Campbell. It will be interesting to see if the 
 Falcons add to cornerback yet again after losing 
 Desmond Trufant to injury late in the season (though he'll obviously be back in time for 2020). 

Round 1: (No. 16 overall) Brian Burns, DE, 16 games/5 starts.

 **Round 2:** (37) 
 Greg Little, T, 4 games/3 starts. 
 **Round 3:** (100) 
 Will Grier, QB, 2 games/2 starts. 
 **Round 4:** (115) 
 Christian Miller, LB, 7 games/0 starts. 
 **Round 5:** (154) 
 Jordan Scarlett, RB, 9 games/0 starts. 
 **Round 6:** (212) 
 Dennis Daley, T, 14 games/9 starts. 
 **Round 7:** (237) 
 Terry Godwin, WR, 0 games/0 starts (signed to 
 Jaguars' practice squad in September). 
 **Notable rookie FA signings:** 
 Joey Slye, K, 16 games/0 starts. 

Burns finished 80th in overall defensive grade among edge rushers per PFF, doing better in the pass rush (his forte) than in run defense, and he recorded 7.5 sacks in 16 games. Daley played most of the season, mostly out of necessity, finding more success in the run game than in the pass, per PFF grades. Little wasn't the stout tackle Carolina hoped he'd be as a rookie, earning sub-60 grades in both pass and run blocking before landing on injured reserve in mid-December. Grier was simply not good in his two games, posting a passer rating of 33.2. Miller played less than half the season, recording just three tackles in his little time spent on the field. Scarlett primarily played special teams, spending 113 of his 121 snaps there. Godwin ended up on Jacksonville's practice squad. Slye made just 78.1 percent of his field-goal attempts, but he also attempted and made more kicks from 50-plus yards out than anyone else (8 for 11) in 2019, with his conversion rate at that distance (72.7) standing as the second best in the NFL among those with more than four such tries.

 **Free agency/combine focus:** First things first: What will the 
 Panthers do with quarterback 
 Cam Newton? Grier didn't show much in his limited playing time, and the 
 Kyle Allen hype train ground to a halt after a hot start. Linebacker is also a need after the surprise retirement of 
 Luke Kuechly. Cornerback could use a boost, with 
 James Bradberry heading for the open market. 
 Gerald McCoy provided temporary relief up front defensively, posting five sacks during his one-year deal, but both sides of the trenches could use a youth infusion. Fortunately for the 
 Panthers, this class is loaded at offensive tackle if they prefer to keep 
 Daryl Williams inside -- that is, if they end up keeping Williams, who is headed for free agency, at all. 

Follow Nick Shook on Twitter @TheNickShook.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content